Category Archives: society

I Need Diverse Games – Because seriously, I just do.

If you’re not on Twitter, then you are missing out on a growing movement called #INeedDiverseGames. You can search for the hashtag on Twitter, or see my Storify tweet highlights here.

Writing about this topic feels tiring for me. It’s tiring because I feel so weary of the insensitivity that those who oppose the call for diversity in games exhibit. I can’t deny that our side has some holier-than-thou members who get a tad unfair in their quest for equal representation. But the arguments against are just willfully ignorant much of the time. When close-minded jerks like Youtuber TheInternetAristocrat snidely tell me that I should quit whining and make my own games…well, first of all, many of us (including myself) already TRY to make our own content across all kinds of media, including games. We just get rejected by executives and publishers because they’re too afraid to support us. And when we go indie? We struggle to be seen at all, and even get accused by fundamentalist gamers as not “producing real games” like Gone Home was so unfairly told.

We aren’t trying to hijack the gaming industry. Do you want your cishet white guy protagonist, and your tired misogynist plot-lines? Sure! Go ahead! But many of us want games we can relate to as well, and we shouldn’t be mocked or threatened by individuals who refuse to see things from our perspective. And by “our”, I mean women, people of color, LGBT, people of various faiths, and so so much more. I don’t hate white people. I don’t hate video games. I love video games. That’s why I want to see them excel. Video games have shown that they can and are an art form, and studies have shown a growing diversity among its consumers. Game developers should be encouraging that growth, not ignoring it.

As a hispanic bisexual woman, I would like to see more games produced that show positive examples of women in central roles, LGBT characters who aren’t vilified or caricatured, and PoCs that achieve more than speaking like stereotypes and engaging in acts of crime.

As I said on Twitter, I want the video game industry to be something that broadens my son’s view of the world, not narrows it.

If you feel the same way, please check out this hashtag stream on Twitter. Talk about it on your blogs. Hell, reblog this post. Because we need a change. And soon.

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Let’s Get Together! – The Unfortunate Disconnection in the LGBT Fiction World

Since opening up my fantasy novel, Tributaries, to pre-orders, I’ve noticed something that both surprises me and disheartens me at the same time. When I made the decision to write for the LGBT community and its allies, I realized that I would have to face the challenge of connecting with a very niche and (at times) remote audience. In the super-abundant world we live in now, where getting your voice heard is hard enough in a cishet market, I’ve learned that LGBT fiction just plain has it rough. Marketers still have no idea what to do with these kinds of stories. Do you lump them all together under romance? But then what about those stories that are more fantasy/adventure/thriller/sci-fi/etc? Do you list those under the specific genres without mentioning the LGBT aspects? Ah, but the reviewers! What if they complain on their blogs and customer reviews that they felt tricked when the protagonist fell in love with someone of the same sex? Well what about just attaching ‘romance’ to the primary genre, and hoping for the best?

It’s all just one hot mess.

It isn’t unusual for brick-and-mortar stores to lack any self-identifying LGBT work, either. A sad fact, as I’ve read a number of LGBT books that are every bit as good as some of the nonsense that gets on the best seller lists.

But this isn’t the disheartening surprise I alluded to earlier. I’ve known the reality of scarce LGBT outlets for years. No, what surprised me was specifically the lack of support and structure for lesbian fiction. Over the last few weeks, I’ve tried hunting down LGBT blogs who I hope could connect me with my target audience, only to find myself disappointed when the site clarifies that they are actually only interested in m/m fiction. Uh, say what? Why the heck would you use the full acronym if you’re only interested in a single aspect of it?? You see, the fact is that m/m fiction has a much bigger community of support than f/f. (Don’t even get me started on bi and trans…)

It’s not that I haven’t found lesbian sites dedicated to writing or reviewing lesbian fiction. I have. But half of the sites I found were defunct. Then the remaining active sites were sadly narrow in scope (i.e. erotica only, print books only, fan fiction only, paranormal romance only, books with positive reviews of 2 or more only, etc…) And on social networks? I primarily use Twitter for my social marketing (it’s about all I have energy for–though I dabble in Tumblr) and I can’t seem to find any of the les fic authors anywhere. A quick google search also proved that there doesn’t seem to be an LGBT group of writers out there interested in supporting and signal boosting each other. You’d think the LGBT community of readers would have come up with a hashtag or a retweet group to help promote what is already a neglected corner of the market. Something like #LGBTrds or #LGBTbks. Something! Anything! Erotica, paranormal romance, dark fantasy, and horror fiction are doing it, why the hell can’t we? I even tried searching blog hops (which are basically author events on blogs featuring interviews, free books, cover reveals, etc.) and the last LGBT blog hops were last summer! That was over a year ago now! The one LGBT fiction blog hop that I could find that was held this year was actually ended prematurely and shut down for good. Yeah. It apparently went down for lack of participation. Not encouraging.

Now I know what you might be thinking: But Illise, if you hate it so much, why don’t you do something to change it? MarkTheShaw did it with #IndieBooksBeSeen on Twitter and Tumblr, didn’t he?

Simply put, no one gives a fuck about me. I don’t have the status or the connections to set something like this in motion. I suppose I could try to contact someone who DOES have these things to help me, but let’s just all refer back to my first point regarding the lack of fucks people give me, then infer what the result would be.

Okay. I had my little tantrum. I can’t have been the first LGBT writer to have thought along these lines, and I bet those who came before just learned to deal with it. You find a way to make it work, or you don’t. I’ve been promoting my work on a number of Indie Author hashtag communities, and it’s not like I’m not getting some help. The people on #IAN1, #IARTG, #IndieBooksBeSeen, #IndieAuthor, and #ASMSG are wonderful folks! But the point isn’t just to blast your work out to a random audience. It’s to target your efforts so that the people most likely to want to read your work hear about it at all. That’s really the major issue. LGBT fiction feels like a grain of sand lost in an indifferent ocean when marketing to a general audience. You can’t use #LGBT on Twitter either, because dear god, that stream moves waaaay too fast and is inundated with LGBT political and entertainment news.

As LGBT authors, our little slice of the literary world is tough and challenging in a market that already has plenty of obstacles to overcome. But it could be so much better if we could pool our readers together and support one another, especially since most LGBT authors are signed with small press or are self-publishers. It isn’t as if anyone is looking out for us little guys.

If, after reading this post, you feel that I am in error, then please enlighten me! I want to be proven wrong, even a tiny bit. But if you’re in agreement, why not share your thoughts on why the LGBT author community is so disconnected. Do you agree that lesbian fiction is not as well off as gay fiction? Just to be clear, a lack of readers is not the issue. That’s more a marketing challenge, anyway. But why do LGBT authors seem so disinterested in connecting with each other?

Oh, and if you ARE a LGBT author, please please please connect with me. I love RTing LGBT fiction on Twitter! I’m @cajeck. Send me a DM and I’ll add you to the LGBT author list I’m trying to form. 🙂

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The Notebook and HIMYM’s Dobler-Dahmer Theory

Okay…OKAY. So I just started watching The Notebook. I had to pause it JUST to type this because this scene was ridiculous to me:

I mean, I  realize that McAdams character gets her revenge by pantsing Gosling’s character, but this scene immediately made me think of How I Met Your Mother’s Dobler-Dahmer Theory:

For me? The Notebook’s “big romantic gesture” was straight into Dahmer territory.

As hot as Ryan Gosling is, if some guy persistently pestered me, then coerced acceptance through fear, I’d either kick him in the nuts or get the authorities.

Fine, fine. I hate party poopers like the rest of you. I can engage in a bit of suspension of disbelief. This is a romantic film, and we know that these two characters will inevitably get together.

But Rachel McAdams character tells Gosling’s character “NO” pretty clearly several times, and he proceeds to continuously invade her space, then manipulate her through bullshit antics. I guess as an audience we’re supposed to find this “roguish” behavior as charming. Yeah? Well when I was a kid I would’ve thought his persistence was romantic, now I just see it as menacing.

I guess I’ll keep watching this, but this isn’t a great start for what’s supposed to be such a huge cult movie…

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Trigger Warnings for Writing

I’m not sure how I got onto this topic today. I was literally supposed to just sit down and read my assigned pages for class this week, when some link or tweet or whatever caught my eye, and it got me thinking on trigger warnings for books. Namely that I don’t see them! Now while I am not a victim of abuse or trauma, I can say without a doubt that I truly appreciate content warnings from films and shows. If they say: “This presentation contains graphic sexual abuse and violence. Viewer discretion is advised.” I will listen! I don’t like getting blindsided with the sight of a man or woman getting raped, abused, or tortured. I like knowing when these things may happen so that I can decide for myself if I can stand watching them. But the courtesy of trigger warnings is less important for me, and more important for those who have actually suffered such experiences, or perhaps knows someone who has.

Even subtle warnings seem to be absent in most books. For instance, my copy of The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett fails to mention that one main character gets raped, and another is forced to watch–not to mention all the incest. Was Mr. Brett expecting his readers to just take for granted that a dark fantasy book would feature such things? And there are plenty of books on the market these days that pull the same thing. What gets me is that movies and television shows are expected to warn viewers beforehand due to censorship ratings, but because books aren’t held to that standard they just don’t do it. I’m not saying books should be rated, but I find it a little disappointing that so many fail to think of those readers who re-experience their traumas again because of someone’s writing.

Of course, there are arguments for and against trigger warnings. I really liked the write up by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, who provides a reasonable argument as to why she–a PTSD sufferer–disagreed with trigger warnings. It was a dilemma I found myself facing when putting trigger warnings on Eikasia and Akumu Love Panic. What “triggers” should I even mention? Was I going to have to put a trigger tag on every post containing a potential scene, sentence, or phrase that could set someone off? And we’re talking about years worth of writing here, so the task felt overwhelming… But as Coslett states, triggers are everywhere and can come from the least expected things. I realize that not everyone who has suffered a particular trauma or negative experience may be triggered in the obvious ways. For all I know, one of my in-story jokes could set someone off. Another write-up by Ann O’Malley argues that people should at least have the choice to deal with such things, because the old phrase “don’t like it, don’t read it” doesn’t work if someone isn’t aware it’s even there. Cosslett touches on this a little bit too.

So here’s what I decided to do: for Eikasia and Akumu Love Panic, I will not be tagging potential triggers in posts or hiding them in spoiler links.* On the front page (aka the “New Readers” page) for both sites, the header for trigger warnings will be highlighted in red (with a red instruction under “ratings” to scroll down to see it) and in that list will be a general breakdown of potential trigger warnings for each story arc for both series. In these lists, I try to cover some of the more common triggers, including one or two less common ones that I think are worth noting (like child death). Given the size of both Eikasia and Akumu Love Panic, combing the stories for triggers would be unfeasible. The best I can do is highlight those that are most likely to trigger someone, and let the stories run their natural course.

The point here isn’t to coddle people or to shove an agenda into people’s faces. I agree with Cosslett that the tendency to tag everything (from blog articles to tweets) with potential trigger warnings is a bit much. But everyone deals with trauma differently, and for those who seek solace in stories like mine, I think it is important to at least give the person a heads up about what they may encounter. People immerse themselves into stories, and sometimes that level of empathy can really impact a person strongly. I’d hate to send someone over the edge just because I failed to take the short time to offer a warning!

*For those Eikasia readers wondering why I’m not putting spoiler links on posts with possible triggers when I do that for graphic sex scenes, here’s why: Eikasia began as a story that didn’t feature graphic sex. I had asserted in the past that I wasn’t interested in writing sex scenes, but this later changed. In order to keep from alienating those readers who did not want to read sex scenes and came to expect their exclusion from the series, I put spoiler links. So the difference with trigger warnings and sex scenes is that I had always intended to write about certain controversial issues in Eikasia, whereas I hadn’t with sex scenes. I hinted at things like self-harm, rape, and torture early on, setting them up as a constant in the setting, and therefore something to be encountered at one point or another. Conversely, Akumu Love Panic does not have spoiler links for its sex scenes because it was established that the story would be featuring such things from the get go. I hope that is clear.

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The Result

(This is a follow-up to my “Elmiryn’s Wisdom” post a few days ago)

So Kliff’s Edge was accepted to the listing, though the site owner’s reasons still held that gender and sex were inseparable, and their acceptance of the story was hinged on the fact that they believed readers would view May’s gender identity as a woman, despite the character’s personal views.

A listing is a listing, though I don’t agree with the reasons behind it. I can only hope that the readers have a better understanding of May’s identity.

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Elmiryn’s Wisdom…Wait, What?

For those of you who read my free online serial, Eikasia, you’re very familiar with one of the main characters: Elmiryn!

She’s arrogant, brash, and has (what one reader called) a controversial sense of humor.

But if there is one thing that Elmiryn is not, that’s stupid. She may not be the most book smart, that’s for her co-star, Nyx, to brag. No, what Elle has got is an ability to see outside of the box. Now what she does with that knowledge isn’t always tactful, but there’s a reason she was a dragoon captain. Dragoons took on the dangerous missions, the suicidal missions. But she survived every time without a scratch. Why? Because she observes things most can’t even bring themselves to, and it’s that kind of thinking that led her to her surprisingly pragmatic quote in Eikasia’s very first chapter (which she then repeated numerous times throughout the Eikasia epic):

“You can’t shame me for working off my  prejudices–everyone on this world needs a way to react to something new and mysterious if they wanna keep from getting overwhelmed.”

Elmiryn is aware of her own prejudices, and she’s prepared to shed these views if she’s presented a convincing alternative. She will not let others shame her for failing to see what she could not have seen before.

Which sort of brings me, finally, to what I really wanted to talk about today.

As you guys know, I’ve been trying to promote Kliff’s Edge (which you should check out btw!) with tweets, posts, and other tactics. Well, as I’ve stated numerous times on my Twitter account, this is for a school project, and the more response I get, the better results I’ll be able to use for my class final a little over a week from now. Though it would take time to get the approvals (or rejections) I decided to submit Kliff’s Edge to different directories and listings that I thought might accept the series. One of these was an LGBT website (I won’t say which) that has listed my other works in the past.

Now…the funny thing was, I anticipated a certain level of doubt about Kliff’s Edge, because May, the main character, is genderqueer (AKA trigender). That means that in all areas of her life, whether at work, at school, on the toilet, or having sex with another person, she never considers herself a man OR a woman. This is gender identity, and science has shown that sexual orientation and gender are two different things in the human brain. This is a fact that can be seen with transexuals as well. For instance, a person born a man but who wishes to be a woman may still prefer women through the transitioning process (effectively making their orientation, lesbian). Many cisgenders do not know this can happen. I think the LGBT community has progressed in terms of understanding transexuals, but many trans still report discrimination within the community about such things. So given all of this knowledge, I was totally aware that there could be some resistance to the idea of Kliff’s Edge fitting in this LGBT directory.

The response I got? Still surprised me. A lot. Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten used to speaking to people who understand that gender identity and orientation are two different things, but to hear this from a fellow LGBT person was just…wow! It was just a harsh reminder that sometimes we’re not all on the same page.

…And that’s okay! So long as we change.

The response from the listing owner was basically expressing concerns over my attempt to place May in the “lesbian” category because she doesn’t see herself as a woman. They asked what she considered herself when with a sexual partner. They said that lesbian readers had expectations when perusing their lesbian listings and so if May was thinking (read behaving) as a man too much, they would be alienated.

In as non-threatening and patient a tone I could manage, I proceeded to type out my response, explaining that gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same thing. That May is not trans. She was born with female genitalia and she likes it. She does not “sometimes” thinks she’s a man or a woman. She’s just May. Trigender. Genderqueer.

I then went on to provide examples of how looking or behaving masculine was not a foreign thing in the lesbian community, as not all butches are trans. That androgynous women, whether more masculine or more feminine, had a place too.

See, what the site owner was doing was seeing gender roles and biological sex as inseparable things. As they saw it, May saying she’s not a woman was denying her sex, and therefor (psychologically) she could not be a lesbian.

I’ve already sent my response to the site owner, and I hope that they accept Kliff’s Edge to their listing, but if not? I’ll be…disappointed, but not angry. The entire time I wrote my response email, I was thinking of Elmiryn, and her view on prejudices. Some people simply do not encounter things like genderqueer, and so they don’t know all the facts about them, or that they are a diverse subgroup all their own. Hell can you blame them? I remember feeling isolated in my hometown in California, and I lived 2 hours from San Francisco! People get exposed to different things in different ways at different times of their lives. I even remember a time I got irritated with my husband for thinking all transexuals were gay. It was simple naivety on his part. It’s only now that I realize that was unfair to get upset with him. He’d never heard of the things I’d heard of. And that’s why dialogue is important…with everybody. (Of course, when a person still chooses to disregard facts when presented a series of conclusive arguments, it’s safe to call them an asshole. You just can’t give up on the first try!)

I’d end this by saying, if only we had more Elmiryn’s in the world, but who wants to deal with so many bad drunks?

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Instant Message from I.M. #10

So for my international readers: the U.S. Presidential Election is done. Obama has won again, and I’m glad. Believe me. Romney was going to be the worst thing ever.

As some of you may remember, I work at a country club here in Georgia, and lemme tell you, the mood here for the Romney supporters is quite subdued. Now, I’m not gloating or anything, but there was one moment I found particularly amusing.

You see, I asked my supervisor what event we are working today, and he mumbled, “Some luncheon, fundraiser…thing.”

Poor guy.  You know its bad when the management is apathetic. XD

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Modifying Society: Freedom a current reality?

This is a post about some documentaries I watched, which I use to support a somewhat dark but sincere view point I have about today’s society. While my arrival to my final statement is circuitous, I just wanted to lay this out first and foremost for those of you wondering why the next few paragraphs is me talking about…well…me.

Thanks English 1A.

Anyway…so recently I’ve had an alkaline desire to view the graphic and the real. In the past, I was never much of a gore hound, and I realize that this term has negative connotations, but it would seem this fact is changing.

To be frank, I can watch videos of Mexican cartels beheading people slowly and ineffectively with a kitchen knife and still have my dinner, do my homework, and go to sleep without any nightmares. Perhaps the only real effect such a terrible thing has on me now, is a darker view of the world, and a deeper skepticism as to whether or not “freedom” is a current reality anywhere, even here in America.

Extreme to say? Maybe. But just to be clear, I’m an idealist, not a nihilist. I see wrongdoings, and I find myself hard pressed to keep my mouth shut. I’m blunt, forward, and often times, tactless. Many people in my life have found this to be both an exemplary but troublesome quality in me.

Some small examples of what I mean: My husband once had to (literally) hold me back from jumping down the throat of some jerk who cut in front of us at a Las Vegas hotel. It was late, we were tired, and literally the next in line when this guy just slides right in front of us and starts barking at the hotel clerk. The clerk very tactfully handled the situation and we were checked in just fine. Another time, I was about to settle down for a LARP game (White Wolf’s, Changeling: The Lost) when the Storyteller decided a player was banned simply because the guy had once banged his girlfriend (who had dumped said dude and left him for the Storyteller). In a ridiculous fit, this 6 foot giant locked himself in his room and refused to come out, having this girl come out to deliver the news to my beleaguered friend. Stunned and annoyed, the guy was gonna leave to go hang out with his friends on the other side of the apartment building, and after hearing what went down, I flat out quit the game, telling the girl she could tell her boyfriend to stuff it.

This is me. This is how I am. If I weren’t married and considerate of my husband’s feelings, I probably would have run off to join the Occupy movement. A good thing, I feel now, in the long run. The occupiers stirred my heart with their passion, but they were a part of what I now recognize as an impressively ineffective way to bring about change in organized society. Maybe if I had been given some more guidance when I was younger, I would’ve gone to CSU: Longbeach when they first accepted me, and got into whatever crazy left wing groups they had there. But I didn’t, and here I am: A quiet little rebel with radical thoughts somehow married to a middle-line conservative Air Force soldier in the bible belt, serving bloody-marys and mimosas at a conservative country club.

Say what?

But that’s life! And maybe this introspection has been the reason I’ve been watching documentaries as of late. Two documentaries, seemingly irrelevant, really underscored the thought I stated above.

Is freedom a current reality in our world?

That said, if there is no freedom, is our oppression under societal rule all that bad? America, as my prime example since I friggin’ live here, offers many people many opportunities…

…But in order to have those opportunities, you have to be born in certain areas, and you canNOT break the acceptable mold of appearance and behavior that American society dictates.

My first case for this is the documentary, MODIFY:

This incredible film explores the world of body modification—and not just tattoos and piercings. It covers everything from body builders, to permanent make-up, to 3D body art, to dental reconstruction, to plastic surgery. It talks about the beginnings of the extreme piercing and 3D body art world. Returning to the rabbit hole everyone is familiar with, and going beyond conventional piercings and tattoos, there are also genital piercings, subdermal implants, tongue splitting, amputations, scarification, branding, and probably much more I’m missing.

The documentary is rather graphic in that it depicts surgical procedures, such as sex changes and plastic surgeries, and genital piercing procedures. It talks about the hows, the whys, and the plain ‘ol facts of body modification, and how it is the participants ultimate form of self-expression.

But these people, especially those who engage in the most extreme and exotic forms of body modification, are often shunned by society for their choice in appearance. Many people who seek body modifications are actually rather religious. One man even stated that he was a born again Christian, but had been called the Devil numerous times.

The documentary also talks about the legal gray areas of body modification, and how currently there are hundreds of bills being sent through the political machine to try and restrict certain forms of body modification. The speakers on the documentary all voiced their adamant opposition to this, stating together in summary, “It is my body, and I have a right to change it to what I want.” As one self-described narcissistic, and nihilistic body modder stated, freedom is an illusion, everything is an illusion.

But given that I can’t get a job outside of this subculture with face tattoos and horn implants, I have to wonder if that guy was at least partially correct. What does it matter that I have tattoos up and down my arms? If I am capable to do the job required of me, I should be allowed to work, is my view. But is this the case? No. I realize that body modification is associated with the underworld of criminal activity, but this is an unwholesome misconception. Many of these people have families, but when they try to go down the street with their kids, people stare at them like they have robbed someone else’s crib. It’s a shame.

I have “body mods” too. I’ve got copper highlights in my hair, piercings in my ears, piercings in my nipples, and a tattoo of X-Men’s Storm on my left upper arm. Whether or not you consider these extreme or not, these are indeed modifications to my body, and you have to ask yourself: why are some forms of body modification more acceptable to others? We all say, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” Frankly? I think we should shut up about books and start talking about real people. Because that’s who these body modders are. People.

The next documentary that I watched was Crips and Bloods: Made In America.

This documentary provides an interesting look into Los Angeles, California’s two notorious rival gangs, and the turbulent history of oppression and injustice that very likely led to their creation. It’s directed by Stacy Peralta, the filmmaker responsible for Dogtown & Z Boys, one of my favorite documentaries, and narrated by Forest Whitaker. The story begins in the 1950’s when many African American “clubs” were formed by adolescent teenagers. To name a few, there were the “Slausons”, active from 1952-1965, the “Businessmen”, active from 1957-1965, and the “Gladiators”, active from 1952-1965.

A Few Slausons’ Club Members

Commentary was provided from three former Slausons’ members, who stated their thoughts as to how these clubs came to formation, and what they really were about. In the 1950s, there weren’t “outreach programs” or “community groups” unified to encourage black youth and keep them out of trouble. One speaker even stated that the Boy Scouts turned him and his mother away because the troop leader believed some of the parents, “would feel uncomfortable.” Coupled with the constant harassment the black community faced at large in LA at the time, these things caused some youths to try to band together in an effort to create safety and pride. For them, it wasn’t about drugs and killing each other. Was there violence? Yes, to some degree. But guns and knives were never involved. Disputes were always handled by their fists. Club members were “notorious” for being difficult with white law enforcement, and often beat each other up for crossing imaginary territory lines. But there were no murders. No “beefs”. In fact, these clubs all united in 1965 for what was called, “The Watts Rebellion.”

It was a bloody and violent conflict, and it showed the pent up frustration that the southern LA African American community felt towards their being forced into poor living conditions, and the attacks faced by law enforcement. Many club members went on to become Black Panthers. Many became influential leaders in their communities for black pride. This new African American movement alarmed white government officials, who saw this as a threat to national security. The FBI and LAPD were known to consider these groups as dangerous and unlawful.

During this period, many black leaders were either imprisoned or assassinated.

By the end of the 70s, black youth were suddenly bereft of a righteous cause, and yet still denied equal opportunity. They were left angry, disenfranchised, and poor. They grew up, witnessing the organized and passionate movements their parents had participated in without an outlet of their own. Peralta suggests this led to the creation of today’s gangs.


Crips — Allegedly created before the Bloods, they are assumed to have been founded by Raymond Lee Washington, who was murdered in 1979 at a young age.

The documentary loses some points with me, despite their interesting foundation of information, for neglecting to detail just how the Crips and Bloods arose from all of this, and for failing to answer who their founders were, and what their lives had been like. While it is true that these gang founders were killed at a young age and thus, we shall never know what their original intent had been beyond basic survival (maybe that’s all there ever was?), I still feel like Peralta lacked a direct connection with LA’s African American history, and today’s current gang violence. After all, it has been stated that Raymond Lee Washington, the original founder of the Crips, disliked guns and knives. His crimes were often attempts to protect himself or provide for basic needs—such as robberies consisting largely of food and clothing. But by the time of his death, he had little to no control of the Crips, and there is no current understanding as to why he was murdered in the first place. Maybe there wasn’t a reason, as can be the case in gang violence. But regardless, I think Peralta could have at least mentioned some of this in the documentary.

Still, the film does an excellent job giving a glimpse into today’s Crips and Bloods, offering testimonies from current members and former members alike, as well as the families of some of their victims. The basic point that the film makes is this: the Crips and the Bloods are a product of the America that was, and the America that is. Many African American men are incarcerated, tearing apart families over non-violent offenses. Criminal records often bar released prisoners from starting a new and lawful life, resulting in frustration and a return to crime. Sub-standard living and “gang task forces” also lend to the vicious cycle. After all, with discrimination and violence, and without equal opportunity, how can one expect the birthplace of these gangs to end their illicit activities?

What I especially liked was that the film doesn’t just leave you with this bloody and sad mess of societal failure, and it especially doesn’t give you any room to think that Peralta is somehow glorifying gangbanging—the film ends on a bittersweet, but otherwise positive note that, despite the continuing existence of these gangs, there are some who are willing to risk their lives, without government assistance, to try to turn the tide. This brave lot includes former gangbangers who try to reach out to young people and tell them how it really is.

So in America, where you can’t look a certain way, be born in a certain place, or even be related to certain people…does the concept of freedom still ring true in your ears?

For me, it rings more as a possibility. This may sound cheesy, and even pretentious, but if we don’t save our children from the unjust prejudices and social failures of the present, all of our bullshit will sound just like that…


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Instant message from I.M. #3

Here in the wealthy and ultra  conservative community of Augusta, “religious acceptance” means Evangelists, Protestants, and Baptists getting along.


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